New Evidence Shows Convents in Rome Hid Jews During War

Research finds names of 3,200 people sheltered during Nazi occupation
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 7, 2023 4:35 PM CDT
Research Shows Convents Hid Roman Jews in World War II
An undated file photo of Pope Pius XII   (AP Photo)

Researchers have discovered new documentation that substantiates reports that Catholic convents and monasteries in Rome sheltered Jews during World War II, providing names of at least 3,200 Jews whose identities have been corroborated by the city's Jewish community, officials said Thursday. Researchers from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust research institute, and Rome's Jewish community released the findings at an academic workshop Thursday held at the Museum of the Shoah, the AP reports, part of Rome's main synagogue. The documentation doesn't appear to shed any new light on the role of Pope Pius XII during the Nazi occupation of Rome, including whether he directed Catholic institutions to shelter Jews.

Historians have long debated Pius' legacy, with supporters insisting he used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives and critics saying he remained silent as the Holocaust raged across Europe, and even as Roman Jews were rounded up and deported from the Vatican's backyard in 1943. Rather, the new documentation provides names and addresses of Romans who were sheltered in Catholic institutions during the war, which had only previously been reported in vague terms and numbers by Italy's preeminent historian of the period, Renzo de Felice, in a 1961 book, according to a joint statement from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Yad Vashem and Rome's Jewish community.

The documentation was discovered in the archives of the Biblical Institute, which is affiliated with the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University, per the AP. It lists more than 4,300 people who were sheltered in the properties of 100 women's and 55 men's Catholic religious orders. Of those, 3,600 are identified by name, and research in the archives of Rome's Jewish community "indicates that 3,200 certainly were Jews," the statement said. "Of the latter it is known where they were hidden and, in certain circumstances, where they lived before the persecution. The documentation thus significantly increases the information on the history of the rescue of Jews in the context of the Catholic institutions of Rome," the statement said.

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It is unclear whether any of the Jews listed were baptized. Recently opened Vatican archives of the Pius papacy suggest that the Vatican worked hardest to save Jews who had converted to Catholicism or were children of Catholic-Jewish mixed marriages, according to the book The Pope at War, by Brown University anthropologist David Kertzer. Iael Nidam Orvieto, director of Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research and an expert on the Jews of Italy during the Holocaust, said the new documentation adds new information but also poses new questions that require further investigation. One of those questions is why the list was even compiled by an Italian Jesuit at the Pontifical Biblical Institute immediately after the liberation of Rome.

(More Rome stories.)

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